Transit officials seek funding by giving tour

April 17, 2009 (CHICAGO) Transit officials hosted the field trip for a delegation of Illinois legislators, hoping to convince them that $414 million in federal stimulus funds and $900 million in state capital improvement money are not enough. They say they need $10 billion more over the next five years for infrastructure and capital improvements.

"Our capital program has dropped to half of what it should be. The system is deteriorating. It's a situation where it should not be deteriorating but expanding to meet the growing demand for transit," said RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman.

The pitch for support began with a ride on a Metra train to west suburban Cicero, where officials highlighted what they say is proof of several either outdated or decaying rail stations.

"We need to redo platforms. We need to redo the station, put in better entrances. We want to expand the parking," said executive director Metra Phil Pagano.

Regional Transportation Administration authorities, in partnership with Metra, CTA, and Pace officials, say they need the funding because of the lack of a regional plan in the last 20 years. That has forced them to spend operating dollars to address outdated equipment, crumbling stations and service issues.

A little more than one year ago, an agreement to raise an RTA tax in the city by one cent per dollar, and twice that amount in the suburbs, passed in Springfield. Now, some lawmakers want to increase the motor fuel tax by 8 cents per gallon specifically for mass transit needs.

"I believe that we should move a capital plan that is financed on motor fuel tax in order to provide a robust capital plan, not only for transit, but other capital improvements," said Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who represent Cicero.

During the Pace bus part of the tour, the delegation got a feel for problems when the bus's air conditioning went out.

"You take people out and show them the facility that people are seeing to make their decision to take public transit, and [you ask yourself] is that influencing their decision?" said Pace's T.J Ross.

Lawmakers also heard from CTA officials who also worked to justify their request for more money and get critics of a funding change on board.

"This needs to be a bipartisan effort in order to pass. This, I believe, is a first step to giving us that trust that we have lacking," said Republican state Rep. Sidney Mathis, who represents Arlington Heights.

However, with the state billions of dollars in debt, some wonder where the money will come from.

"How can we make it to transit so it's supply and demand, so that the people riding will pay for the privilege of riding, rather than the people who aren't?" the Illinois Policy Institute's Richard Lorene said.

Some, including Governor Quinn, are pushing for an increase in income tax to help offset the state's budget woes. The lawmakers attending Friday's tour were not all in agreement with that, but they did say concern remains that there are too few dollars to address the public need.

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